Chicken bones and cranberries

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The witch-hunting conference

Just like Eddie hoped, a single touch of the chicken bones and cranberries necklace had lifted the wicked freezing spell off Jack. His miraculous healing conjured[1] up even a bigger crowd than the unfortunate enchantment. Everyone wanted to see Jack and hear his story one more time. By early afternoon there was no place for an apple to fall outside the Larsons’ house; everyone wanted to know what happened.
To pacify the crowd, the Bluebells mayor announced that there is going to be an urgent meeting at the city hall, a conference on witch hunting. The gathering was to be held at seven in the evening, precisely, and the Larson family was urged to participate. Unwillingly, the townspeople left the property yet again.
Hours before seven the crowd started to pour into the city hall, and soon the place was packed as a barrel of pickled herrings.
The meeting began with a detailed testimony of Ron Dobson, the Bluebells butcher. He stood closest to the witch and saw her shape shifting in most details. Eddie Muller could barely breathe with excitement. Then it was his turn to talk about the witch’s belongings that he got to guard for a little while. Quite purposefully, Eddie did not make his story very exciting. “There was nothing, really,” he said. “Just an old raggedy dress, and a pair of beat up wooden shoes, like those of a Dutch girl, but much uglier,” he reported, and quickly sat back down on his chair. Eddie noticed that Jack Larson was looking at him very watchfully, so he gave him a wink.
The last person to take the stand was Jack’s dad. He explained to the Bluebells townspeople that the witch sneaked onto his property, kidnapped the children’s little dog, and enchanted Jack with a freezing spell that lasted for more than twelve hours.
The crowd awed and gasped, for never before the Bluebells folk got to witness so much magical activity in such little time.
“Well, my fellow citizens, how shall we protect our village from the supernatural malevolency[2]?” asked the mayor when Jack’s dad finished speaking.
“We shall hunt the witch down!” yelled out Eddie Muller and that earned him a pinch from his mother.
“Easy, lad,” the mayor lifted his right hand. “This will not be an easy task. The witch is known to take animal shape. Moreover, we have not a slightest idea of where she lives…”
“That is not entirely true,” a slender, gray-haired man spoke up. His name was Johny Volk; he was a seasoned hunter.
“What do you mean?” questioned the mayor, irritated.
“I bet she lives in abandoned ranger’s cabin,” replied Johny Volk, calm and confident.
“What makes you believe that, Johny?”
“Last fall, while deer-hunting in the ancient forest, I saw black smoke coming out of the cabin’s chimney. We all know it had been abandoned for quite some time, but when I stopped by, there was life inside it. And it seemed like a good living, indeed - with a kettle boiling and laundry drying. Though no-one came out to talk to me, I could just smell a witch in that cabin, with herbs, and all the trinkets all around. I have no doubt now, that must be your market witch,” Johny Volk spoke in a deep quiet voice, but everyone in the hall could hear his every word.
The hunter had opened up the map; yes, my dear, this particular map that you get to look at now. He lifted the map and showed a place in the ancient forest, marked with a “W.”
“I had visited this place numerous times. My friend Duke Shelton, the forest ranger, lived there in the past. But now, I am certain, the witch has settled in his cabin.”
“And what do you suppose we shall do with the witch, once we get to that cabin?” asked the mayor, who did not seem to favor the idea of witch-hunting.
“Banish her!” someone yelled from the crowd.
“Put her in prison!” another angry voice suggested.
Soon the hall was filled with a ruckus[3] and the Bluebells mayor had to bang his coffee cup with a teaspoon to ask for silent attention.
“Is there any one of you, who is not afraid of the witch and will go and conquer her to protect Bluebells from this evil involvement?” asked the mayor. He looked around the hall, but only one hand that was raised and shook impatiently belonged to a minor. Eddie Muller, of course.
“I want to go too!” Jack Larson shouted, raising his hand.
“This is not a job for young lads,” strictly objected the mayor. “We need mature, seasoned men to deal with this incredible danger.”
After a few minutes of deliberation[4], it was decided that Johny Volk, the hunter, and the mayor himself were to set on the witch-hunting journey to the ancient forest.
Eddie Muller had his own idea of what witch-hunting was supposed to be like. He paid attention very carefully to every single word that Johny Volk said about the ancient forest and its inhabitants and carefully looked at the hunter’s map. When the town session was over, Eddie waited until Jack and his parents were leaving the hall, then he sneaked behind Jack and quietly put a note into his hand.
“Meet me by the boat dock at midnight tomorrow. Be ready,” said the note.



[1] Conjure: to cause something to appear.

[2] Malevolency: threatening evil.

[3] Ruckus: a noisy situation; also, an argument.

[4] Deliberation: a careful consideration and discussion.

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